UN rights chief urges independent probe into deaths in Colombia

Michelle Bachelet, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, urged for a swift investigation to hold accountable those responsible for the deaths during anti-government protests in Colombia. (File/AFP)
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Updated 30 May 2021

UN rights chief urges independent probe into deaths in Colombia

  • The country is in the second month of protests against the government of President Ivan Duque
  • The NGO Human Rights Watch cited “credible reports” of at least 63 deaths nationwide

Geneva: The UN rights chief voiced alarm Sunday at deadly clashes in the Colombian city of Cali, calling for an independent investigation and accountability for the violence.

Pointing to reports that 14 people had died since Friday amid massive anti-government protests in Colombia’s third-largest city, Michelle Bachelet said a swift investigation and resumption of dialogue was needed.

“It is essential that all those who are reportedly involved in causing injury or death, including state officials, are subject to prompt, effective, independent, impartial and transparent investigations and that those responsible are held accountable,” the UN High Commissioner said in a statement.

Her comments came after the Colombian army on Saturday tightened its control over Cali, a city of 2.2 million, after clashes pitted police against armed civilians.

The country is in the second month of protests against the government of President Ivan Duque.

Officials have said the month of protests had left at least 59 people dead, and that more than 2,300 civilians and uniformed personnel have been injured.

The NGO Human Rights Watch cited “credible reports” of at least 63 deaths nationwide, and called the situation in Cali “very serious.”

Bachelet’s office cited reports that 14 people had been killed in Cali since Friday, and 98 had been injured, including 54 by firearms.

The dead in Cali included an off-duty employee of the prosecutor’s office who had fired his gun at two protesters blocking a street, killing one of them. Video on social media shows a crowd then pouncing on the shooter and lynching him.

The rights office also pointed to reports of private individuals firing shots at demonstrators in the presence of police officers in parts of the city.

“These events are all the more concerning given the progress that had been made to resolve, through dialogue, the social unrest that erupted a month ago, following the start of a nation-wide strike against several social and economic policies of the government,” the UN rights chief said.

“I call for an end to all forms of violence, including vandalism, and for all sides to continue talking to each other, and to ensure respect for the life and dignity of all people,” she said.

Bachelet, a former Chilean president, stressed that only dialogue could resolve the demands of different groups on both sides.

“I welcome the commitment voiced by several actors, in Cali and at the national level, to find a negotiated and peaceful solution to the social unrest through talks,” she said.

The UN rights office also said it had received information of at least 30 people arrested in Cali since Friday, and highlighted concerns about the whereabouts of some of them.

“The fair trial and due process rights of those detained need to be ensured,” Bachelet said.

She also stressed the need to take all necessary measures in line with international human rights standards to prevent disappearances.


South Korea, US conduct missile drill in response to North Korea missile test

Updated 11 sec ago

South Korea, US conduct missile drill in response to North Korea missile test

SEOUL South Korea and the US military fired a volley of missiles into the sea in response to North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile over Japan, Seoul said on Wednesday, as Pyongyang’s longest-range test yet drew international condemnation.
Nuclear-armed North Korea test-fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) farther than ever before on Tuesday, sending it soaring over Japan for the first time in five years and prompting a warning for residents there to take cover.
South Korean and American troops staged a missile drill of their own in response, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Wednesday.
Each side fired a pair of US-made ATACMS short-range ballistic missiles, according to a statement.
The military separately confirmed that a South Korean Hyunmoo-2 missile failed shortly after launch and crashed, but caused no casualties.
US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida condemned North Korea’s test in the “strongest terms,” the European Union called it a “reckless and deliberately provocative action,” and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the launch and said it was a violation of Security Council resolutions. The United States asked the UN Security Council to meet on North Korea on Wednesday but diplomats said China and Russia are opposed to a public discussion by the 15-member body.


US ex-Marine gets 4-1/2 years in Russian penal colony for attacking police officer

Updated 04 October 2022

US ex-Marine gets 4-1/2 years in Russian penal colony for attacking police officer

  • Police hauled Robert Gilman off a train in Voronezh in January, while he was traveling from the southern city of Sochi to Moscow, after complaints from fellow passengers about his behavior
  • Russia has sentenced several US citizens to lengthy prison terms in recent years, though Gilman’s case has attracted less attention than most

LONDON: Former US marine Robert Gilman was sentenced to 4-1/2 years in a Russian penal colony on Tuesday for attacking a police officer while drunk, Russian news agencies reported.
Police hauled Gilman off a train in Voronezh in January, while he was traveling from the southern city of Sochi to Moscow, after complaints from fellow passengers about his behavior, the agencies reported, citing the prosecution.
While in custody, Gilman was accused of kicking out at a police officer, leaving him with bruises.
Gilman, whose lawyers told the TASS news agency he had come to Russia to study and obtain citizenship, told the court in Voronezh that he did not remember the incident but had “apologized to Russia” and to the police officer.
After being found guilty, Gilman said the four-and-a-half year sentence requested by the prosecution was too strict.
Gilman’s lawyer Valeriy Ivannikov told reporters he intended to appeal and would ask the United States to seek a prisoner exchange.
US State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said Washington was aware of the decision but said he could not give further details citing privacy considerations.
“We continue to insist that the Russian Federation allow consistent, timely consular access to all (detained) US citizens, and we urge the Russian government to ensure fair treatment to all US citizens detained in Russia,” Patel said, declining to say whether consular access had been granted in Gilman’s case.
Russia has sentenced several US citizens to lengthy prison terms in recent years, though Gilman’s case has attracted less attention than most.
WNBA basketball star Brittney Griner was sentenced in August to nine years in prison after being found in possession of cannabis oil vape cartridges.
Paul Whelan, another ex-marine who also holds Canadian, Irish and British citizenship, is serving 16 years in prison on espionage charges, which he denies.
But in April, former marine Trevor Reed, who was serving nine years after being found guilty of violence against a police officer, was freed in a prisoner exchange.
Russian officials have said they are in talks with Washington about possible new prisoner exchanges. Media reports say they could involve convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout, serving a 25-year sentence in the United States, being released back to Russia.


UK interior minister vows to stop migrant ‘small boats’

Updated 04 October 2022

UK interior minister vows to stop migrant ‘small boats’

  • Irregular migration is a thorny political issue for the UK government
  • Deportation flights have been stymied by a series of legal challenges in the UK courts and at the European Court of Human Rights

BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom: Britain’s new interior minister on Tuesday vowed to prevent migrants from claiming asylum if they arrive through an “illegal” route, and stop small boat crossings across the Channel from France.
Suella Braverman said the situation, in which criminal gangs were exploiting vulnerable migrants, had “gone on for far too long.”
Irregular migration is a thorny political issue for the UK government, which promised to tighten borders after the country left the European Union.
But a partnership deal with Rwanda signed earlier this year under the premiership of Boris Johnson to send some migrants to the African country for resettlement has so far failed.
Deportation flights have been stymied by a series of legal challenges in the UK courts and at the European Court of Human Rights.
Braverman said Britain needed to “find a way to make the Rwanda scheme work” and denounced the intervention of the ECHR, describing it as a “closed process with an unnamed judge and without any representation by the UK.”
“I will commit to look to bring forward legislation that the only route to the United Kingdom is through a safe and legal route,” she told the ruling Conservative party’s annual conference.
“If you deliberately enter the United Kingdom from a safe country you should be swiftly removed to your home country or relocated to Rwanda. That is where your asylum claim will be considered,” she said.
Reacting to Braverman’s speech, the PCS trade union which represents civil servants responsible for implementing the policy, said she did not “appear to understand the UK’s international obligations under the Geneva Convention.”
“Time and again we have called upon the government to use the expertise of our members in the Home Office to develop a solution to this crisis through safe passage,” PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said.
“Instead, it chooses to continually demonize refugees to deflect from its hopeless inability to address the cost of living crisis facing the people of this country.”
Official government figures last month showed more migrants had crossed the Channel to the UK from northern France so far this year than in the whole of 2021, when 28,526 made the journey.
More than 33,500 people have now arrived in Britain.
Braverman’s speech played into Prime Minister Liz Truss’s right-wing agenda, urging police to stop “virtue signalling” on issues such as race and gender.
She promised to empower officers to stop “the mob” of direct-action protesters who use “guerilla tactics” to bring “chaos and misery” to the public.
“Whether you’re Just Stop Oil, Insulate Britain or Extinction Rebellion, you cross a line when you break the law and that’s why we’ll keep putting you behind bars,” she added.
On Tuesday, the Metropolitan Police said it had arrested 54 Just Stop Oil protesters on suspicion of “wilful obstruction of the highway” after a demonstration blocked traffic in central London.


Russian army maps show lost ground in key Kherson region

Updated 04 October 2022

Russian army maps show lost ground in key Kherson region

  • The maps included in Tuesday's daily military briefing showed that Russian forces were no longer in control of the village of Dudchany
  • The Ukrainian military claimed in a statement Tuesday that Russian forces in Kherson are "demoralised" and were falling back on their positions

MOSCOW: Russia’s forces occupying Ukraine’s southern Black Sea region of Kherson have suffered serious territorial losses to Kyiv’s troops over recent days, maps published by Moscow’s defense ministry showed Tuesday.
The maps included in Tuesday’s daily military briefing showed that Russian forces were no longer in control of the village of Dudchany on the west bank of the river Dnieper, where Ukraine’s forces have been pushing to reclaim territory captured at the start of Moscow’s offensive.
In the northeastern Kharkiv region, defense ministry maps showed that Russian forces have left positions on the west bank of the Oskil river, in the aftermath this month of a counter-offensive by Kyiv’s army.
The Ukrainian military claimed in a statement Tuesday that Russian forces in Kherson are “demoralized” and were falling back on their positions, destroying ammunition depots and bridges in their wake.
“All this in order to slow down the offensive of our troops,” the defense ministry said in their statement.
Ukraine’s deputy interior minister Yevhen Enin said Tuesday that Ukraine’s forces had recaptured 50 towns and villages in Kherson, without specifying when.
Kyiv’s forces have been slowly clawing back territory in Kherson for several weeks but the advance has accelerated in recent days.
With a population of one million before the war, Kherson is a key agricultural area and forms the gateway to the Crimean peninsula.
Its main city, also named Kherson, was one of the first to fall to Russian forces after they launched what the Kremlin calls its “special military operations” in February.
The Kremlin last week formally annexed the region along with three others even though Russian troops do not fully control it.


Blackouts hit 130 million in Bangladesh after grid failure

Updated 04 October 2022

Blackouts hit 130 million in Bangladesh after grid failure

  • Bangladesh has suffered a major power crisis in recent month as a result of higher global energy prices
  • It remained unclear what caused Tuesday's unscheduled blackout, which hit more than 80 percent of the country shortly after 2 pm local time

DHAKA: At least 130 million people in Bangladesh were without power on Tuesday afternoon after a grid failure caused widespread blackouts, the government’s power utility company said.
Bangladesh has suffered a major power crisis in recent month as a result of higher global energy prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and has imposed regular service cuts to conserve electricity.
But it remained unclear what caused Tuesday’s unscheduled blackout, which hit more than 80 percent of the country shortly after 2 p.m. local time (0800 GMT), according to the Power Development Board.
Apart from some locations in Bangladesh’s northwest, “the rest of the country is without power,” Power Development Board spokesman Shamim Ahsan told AFP.
Ahsan said 130 million people or more were without electricity and it remained unclear what had caused the fault.
“It is still under investigation,” he said, adding that a technical malfunction was the probable cause.
Junior technology minister Zunaid Palak said on Facebook that power would be restored by 8 p.m. in the capital Dhaka, itself home to more than 22 million people.
Soaring energy prices have wrought havoc on the South Asian nation’s electricity grid in recent months, with utilities struggling to source enough diesel and gas to meet demand.
A depreciating currency and dwindling foreign exchange reserves left Bangladesh unable to import sufficient fossil fuels, forcing it to close diesel plants and leave some gas-fired power stations idle.
The government imposed lengthy power cuts to conserve existing stocks in July, with outages lasting up to 13 hours each day at their peak.
Tens of thousands of mosques around the country have been asked to curtail the use of air conditioners to ease pressure on the electricity grid.
The blackouts sparked widespread public anger and helped mobilize large demonstrations on the streets of the capital Dhaka.
At least three protesters were killed by security forces during the rallies, partly motivated by rising cost-of-living pressures.
Around 100 others were injured during a police crackdown on one demonstration, according to the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
Consumer inflation has hit household budgets hard and the government recently pledged to cap the price of several staple foods, including rice, to quell public discontent.
Bangladesh last witnessed a major unscheduled blackout in November 2014, when around 70 percent of the country went without power for nearly 10 hours.

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